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Abolitionist Movement

In U.S. history, particularly in the three decades before the Civil War, members of the movement that agitated for the compulsory emancipation of the slaves. Abolitionists are distinguished from free-soilers, who opposed the further extension of slavery, but the groups came to act together politically and otherwise in the antislavery cause. The abolitionist movement was one of high moral purpose and courage; its uncompromising temper made the slavery question the prime concern of national politics and hastened the demise of slavery in the United States.

The Tappan brothers and William Lloyd Garrison, who began publishing an abolitionist journal, The Liberator, in 1831, were the principal organizers in Dec., 1833, at Philadelphia, of the American Anti-Slavery Society. The primary concern of the society was the denunciation of slavery as a moral evil; its members called for immediate action to free the slaves. In 1835 the society launched a massive propaganda campaign. It flooded the slave states with abolitionist literature, sent agents throughout the North to organize state and local antislavery societies, and poured petitions into Congress demanding the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia.

The passage of more stringent fugitive slave laws in 1850 increased abolitionist activity on the underground railroad. Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe, became an effective piece of abolitionist propaganda, and the Kansas question further aroused both North and South. The culminating act of extreme abolitionism occurred in the raid of John Brown on Harpers Ferry. After the opening of the Civil War insistent abolitionist demands for immediate freeing of the slaves, supported by radical Republicans in Congress, pushed President Lincoln in his decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.

Fathom, Columbia Encyclopedia